A Guide to Hostel Etiquette

For many travellers staying in a hostel is the only way to go and little wonder. Although hostels come in as many different guises as the people who use them they typically offer the cheapest accommodation option, provide the opportunity of cooking your own meals to save the pennies and provide a base of the ultra-social and multi-national guest variety which makes meeting fellow travellers a doddle.

hostel dorm room

Although hostels tend to be the most relaxed of all the places you might choose to lie your head each night (and some are distinctly ‘anything goes’ set-ups) generally speaking there are still certain rules which apply across the board to ensure everyone’s stay is as good as it can be. Some of these are specific to the hostel but there is also another set of rules which as a guest you will simply be expected to be aware of. Known to every hostel veteran, this is an unwritten set of rules which form the basis of hostel etiquette and getting yourself familiar with these before you embark on your travel adventure will considerably enhance your whole experience.

Most of the ‘law’ book of hostel etiquette is really nothing more than thoughtfulness, respect and common sense and if you are a naturally decent sort or have lived in communal spaces before nothing on this list is likely to cause you too much stress.

1) Don’t Help Yourself to the Communal Kitchen Food

Many hostels around the world have kitchen areas and places to prepare your own food. Along with this typically comes a fridge for storing perishable food or shelves for dry goods. Labelling each item with your name and date of your stay is the most common way of identifying what belongs to whom. We know it can be really tempting to help yourself to that leftover piece of pizza when you’ve had a beer too many late at night but pinching food is really not the way to make friends in hostels. If it is marked ‘free’ or ‘help yourself’ then fill your boots otherwise hands off.

2) The Sound of Silence

Late and early are comparative concepts – we all know some of us are night owls and some of us dawn risers, some of us like to party until late while some of us prefer to retire early with a book. Add into that the arrival and departure of trains, boats and planes 24/7 spilling would-be travellers into hostels at all kinds of unsociable hours and you might start to wonder how anyone ever gets any sleep. The rule here is simple – if others in your dorm room are sleeping don’t turn on lights, slam locker and room doors, talk loudly with your pals or noisily pack/unpack your rucksack. A head-torch comes in really handy here for those late night dorm returns or if you have to get up before the sun to catch a bus.

Many hostels – especially those free of the party-hostel label – have designated quiet hours which you will be advised of on arrival or by signage around the building. These are most typically around 10 or 11 pm until 7 am ensuring those that want to can catch their full 8 hours of sleep without the clanging, banging and raucous high jinks of others.

3) Share Nicely – Don’t be a Power Point Hogger

Some great hostels have seen fit to provide each bunk in a dorm with their very own power point but this is rare. Much more normal is one power point per every few bunks with sometimes nightmare scenarios of 12 roommates fighting it out over one single power point. Most of us have at least one and some of us any number of electrical gadgets which need charging and once you multiply that by your dormies you might start to see where we are headed here. The bottom line is you will need to share nicely so try not to hog more than your share of charging time. Also worth noting on this subject –  unplugging other people’s currently charging devices to connect your own is tantamount to a declaration of war. A great solution to this dilemma is to invest in a portable charger, multi-way plug or adapter.

4) Nobody Loves a Dorm Slob

Although some dorms are wonderfully spacious the majority have limited room and some verge on cramped. This means scattering your belongings over a wide area encroaches on the space of others while simultaneously turning your room into a hazardous  obstacle course. No-one is going to love you if they break their neck trying to negotiate your strewn backpack contents when they return in the dark, respectfully trying to observe rule number 2.

5) The Democratic Dorm Rule

You may be longing to ratchet up that air-con as you lie sweltering in your bunk or desperate to close that window as you lie shivering beneath your blankets but the majority rule applies in dorms. Before doing anything which affects your fellow roommates you will need to garner a general consensus of opinion and if everyone else wants the opposite of what you do you will either have to just suck it up or get yourself a private room where only your opinion counts.

6) Full-on Face-timing & Music Terrorists

While making loud phone or video calls from your bunk can hardly be said to be causing anyone real damage (unless it’s the middle of the night – see rule 2) having to be part of some stranger’s full-on and personal chat is….well….. annoying. All of us who travel want and need to keep connections with friends and family back home but try and find more private places for your calls or keep them quiet.

Perhaps even more irritating is having to listen to some-one else’s music taste at high volume constantly especially if your taste runs to some easy listening diva tunes and your dorm mate favours death metal. Go with the democratic dorm rule here and ask your roomies first if they have any objections. This also applies in all communal areas of the hostel including kitchens. The flip side of this coin is that wonderful moment when you realise several of your fellow hostellers share the same musical taste as you and an impromptu party takes off.

7) Do Your Dishes

While it might be possible to leave a trail of destruction for some-one else to clean up in a hotel this isn’t how it works in hostels. The main rule here applies to communal kitchens where you will always be expected to clean up after yourself and wash all the pots, pans, cutlery and crockery you have used. These items are normally limited and if you don’t clean them the next person who wants to use them will have to. Doing your own dishes is enough of a chore – doing some-one else’s registers way down on the ‘fun-things-to-do’ list for most of us.

8) The Single Bed Occupancy Rule

Although there are the rare-as-rocking-horse-teeth dorm rooms which have double beds, almost universally beds in dorms are single beds and almost always bunks. We understand how exotic locations, party nights and raging hormones can combine to make nights of passion inevitable but if you want to get snuggly with some-one get a private room. Having to listen to some-one else’s after-dark ‘romantic’ antics or even worse being in a bunk above or below these goings on is likely to earn the culprits the ‘worst hostel guest’ award.

9) Observe the Official Hostel Rules

All hostels have them – they range from the almost-do-anything-you-like kind to those which are so strict they verge on draconian. Quite what you might find in the way of rules depends but common inclusions are things such as no guests, observance of quiet hours, prompt check-outs and no food in dorms. Infringement of rules can have several consequences – you might simply get a ticking off, be asked to pay extra or in the worst instances asked to leave. If you don’t like the rules where you are staying, find another hostel which is more relaxed.

10) Are You a Snorer?

While most of us understand snoring is a totally involuntary act which the perpetrator has no control over, fellow dorm mates are unlikely to smile indulgently to themselves and remember this when they have been tossing and turning for hours, unable to sleep. Snoring makes the people who have to live with it grumpy to say the least – it has caused many a marriage break up and even the most patient of us can be stirred to considering violet acts when every night is disturbed by a loud snorer. If you know you snore the most considerate thing you can do is NOT sleep in a dorm. There are even some hostels which insist you take a private room if you do.

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